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Oranges and Ink by Claire Louise Amias | Review

Oranges & InkWe think of the Restoration as being the start of a more enlightened age where things changed for the better. King Charles II learned from the mistakes of his father and, on the whole, his reign was not a bad one. However, the balance of power was, as had always been the case, very much skewed in favour of men with women very much in a secondary position. However, two ladies have gone down in history as being the ‘Spice Girls’ of their day. Intrigued? Then pop along to see Oranges and Ink by Claire Louise Amias which is having its world premiere at the Tristan Bates Theatre

Nell Gwyn (Sarah Lawrie) and Aphra Behn (Claire Louise Amias) are two best friends united by theatre. Before becoming mistress to the King, Nell had been an actor and had appeared in a play written by Aphra. In fact, Aphra had pretty much given Nell her big break. Since then, Nell’s life has changed. Living in a lovely house in Pall Mall, dressed in exquisite gowns, today, Aphra has come for a favour. She has written a new play and wants Nell to be her sponsor. Nell is not sure. This is a time of political intrigue with rumours of Popish plots – mainly concocted by Titus Oates – and Nell is concerned about her place in society. As the King’s concubine, her reputation hangs by a thread, and she is not sure sponsoring the lay is a smart move for her. Luckily, in the Restoration game of courtly poker, true friendship easily tops reputational worries.

There is a lot to like about Oranges and Ink. The relationship between the two actors, both as people and characters, works really well and there is some lovely chemistry between Lawrie and Amias). The story itself is interesting, exploring the lives of women during the Restoration period which appears to have been pretty poor. Whatever their profession, women were seemed to be thought of as little more than prostitutes – I have got to say, I’ve never heard the word whore used so much in a play – with a wealth of society ready to judge and destroy them.

There were a couple of issues. Once or twice it was difficult to follow the excerpts of plays that the two ladies quoted at each other – or really why they were doing so. Restoration comedy doesn’t always work that well these days, particularly when all we are getting is a small passage out of context. I also think that the ending could have been shortened. For me, finishing the play on Aphra’s last passage would have made a much stronger ending.

Having said that, I did enjoy the show and, with its running time of around an hour, I learnt quite a lot about both Nell Gwyn and Aphra Behn. Director Alex Pearson kept things moving well and William Summers’ music made the scene changes smooth and enjoyable. Overall, Oranges and Ink is a really nice play that works on most levels but in my personal opinion, just needs a couple of tweaks to take to the next level.

3 Star Review

Review by Terry Eastham

Aphra Behn and Nell Gwyn were good friends. One of them the first professional female writer and the other an actress turned royal courtesan, they helped each other find success, despite humble beginnings.

Oranges & Ink takes place at a time when fake news about a ‘Popish Plot’ to kill the King is being used to stir up anti-Catholic feelings. When the public seem more interested in the theatre of politics than in the actual playhouses, how is Aphra to continue making a living from her plays? And what will happen to Nell if the King dies? Can she go back to the stage?

The world premiere of
Oranges & Ink
by Claire Louise Amias
Directed by Alex Pearson
Music arranged by William Summers, recorded by The Lovekyn Consort
Presented by A Monkey with Cymbals, And Tomorrow Theatre Company and Alex Pearson Productions
Cast: Claire Louise Amias and Sarah Lawrie

Booking to 6th April 2019
Tristan Bates Theatre, 1a Tower Street, London, WC2H 9NP


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